Tag Archives: Young Adult book reviews

My Top Ten Books for Children and Young Adults in 2018

So, I’ve already told you my best reads for adults in 2018 here. Now it’s time for my Top Ten books for Children and Young Adults that I’ve read this year.

La Belle Sauvage: top ten books for children and young adults 2018

A quick note. I have two boys aged 7 and 9 and this collection includes several I’ve read to them at bedtime. When we finish I discuss the story with them and ask them to rate it out of 5. I then give my own rating and we average it for Goodreads.

La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1), Philip Pullman

How great was it for those of us who followed Lyra Belacqua through His Dark Materials to hear Philip Pullman had written another book about her? But the twist is… it’s a prequel and this time she’s a baby being cared for by nuns! Lyra lives in a Priory opposite an Oxfordshire riverside pub run by our hero Malcolm’s parents.

La Belle Sauvage is an interesting read. The first half – nearly 300 pages – follows the steady life of Malcolm. He learns handicraft, serves at the pub, and gradually comes within a circle of revolutionaries who dare to criticize the Authority. In the context of today’s high-octane novels it’s quite an innovation, a return to old-fashioned slow-build storytelling with a low level of peril. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, and how quickly I read it. The second half – when Malcolm and a local girl have to save baby Lyra following a massive flood – is more action-packed and exciting. 4 stars

Tigerfish: top ten books for children and young adults 2018

Photo courtesy of Linda Lou Oliphant

Tigerfish, Hoang Chi Truong

I was fascinated by Hoang Chi Truong’s memoir of her family’s escape from war-torn Vietnam, and how they sought refuge in the United States. A very powerful story, with a message more relevant than ever in today’s world. You can read my full review here. I will be interviewing the author soon – watch this space. 5 stars

The Mystery of the Silver Spider, Robert Arthur

I loved The Three Investigators adventure mystery series as a boy. They’re now out of print, so it was a huge pleasure to stumble across this title in a second hand bookshop. In this episode, Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews find themselves working as spies on behalf of the CIA, trying to maintain the integrity of fictional Eastern European country, Varania. I read it to the boys at bedtime and they adored it. We’re now on to our second book in the series, The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot. 5 stars

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis

Another one that I read to the boys at bedtime. As it had been with me as a child, it was very popular with them. The seven-year-old did however have a delayed-action burst of tears in the scene with Aslan on the Stone Table. It’s a fairly gruesome and sustained horror scene, as far as middle grade fiction goes – be warned when reading to younger listeners! 5 stars

Danny the Champion of the World, Roald Dahl

Another classic read to the boys, one of the few Roald Dahl books I have never read. We all enjoyed this saga of a boy and his poacher father. The ending is particularly poignant. 5 stars

Peacock Pie, Walter de la Mare

“Peacock Pie is surely one of the greatest children’s books of the century.” said The Times. I’ve had this secondhand book of Walter de la Mare’s poems for a while and had occasionally picked out a poem or two to read to the boys. But this year I read them a lot more and realised how brilliant this collection is. The majority of the poems are great fun, carried along by a crisp rhythm and rhyme. But many also have a subtle mystery. They appear as simple vignettes of people’s lives, but the more you read them, the more they resonate with darker, more adult themes. 5 stars

Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers, Dav Pilkey

My youngest son adoresĀ Captain Underpants. Pick any book and you will see why – this is rocket-fueled, imaginative storytelling for kids, full of ebullience, good will and humour! 4 stars

The Explorer: top ten books for children and young adults 2018

The Explorer, Katherine Rundell

Katherine Rundell is one of my favourite children’s writers. I’ve loved all her books I’ve read – Rooftoppers, The Girl Savage, and The Wolf Wilder. The Explorer is the story of a group of children trying to survive in the Amazon after a plane crash, who come across a long-lost explorer in a ruined city. Whilst I found this story more conventional than her others, it still includes her trademark blend of excitement, suspense, poetry and mystery – exactly what I strive for in my own writing. You can read my review of Katherine Rundell’s other books here. 4 stars

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy, Lynley Dodd

A re-read, because my children love this book so much. It’s a great story, with a colourful cast of dogs ranging from Hercules Morse (‘as big as a horse’) to Muffin McClay (‘a bundle of hay’) and the eponymous Hairy Maclary, from Donaldson’s Dairy. The gang go for a doggy strut downtown – only to be sent packing by Scarface Claw, the toughest tom in town. 5 stars

Finn Family Moomintroll

Finn Family Moomintroll, Tove Jansson

The Finnish writer Tove Jansson features in my A-Z of inspirational authors on Instagram, #stevegreads. The magical Moomins series was the first set of long books I remember reading as a child. This year, I read Finn Family Moomintroll to the boys. They weren’t quite as enamoured with this tale of the magical and tricksy Hobgoblin Hat as I was, but they still enjoyed it. It reminded me why I’d loved these books so much. The author’s gentle, wistful storylines; her delightful, eccentric characters; and above all, her deep empathy and reverence for nature. 5 stars

So that’s my top ten books for children and young adults in 2018. What did you read this year that inspired you?

If you’d like to find more books I’d recommend for children and young adults, check out my post for 2017 here.

Best Books: Young Adult & Children’s

I’ve become quite a fan of the readers’ social media platform, Goodreads. I like it for three reasons:

  1. It’s a great way to get to know readers and writers, and to make friends. You can even compare all the books you’ve ever read with them, and see how similar (or wildly opposed) your tastes are.
  2. As a writer, it’s a great way of seeing what readers think about your books. Most users rate their books as soon as they finish them, and some do written reviews. Because it’s a social media platform, you get more reviews than on Amazon or other retail sites.
  3. It’s a great place to find out about books, as well as to log all the books that you’ve read and want to read. A friend once said that she wished she could write just a few sentences of each book she’d read as she finished it, because it’s so easy to forget books after a while. And it’s the perfect platform for that.

You can check out what people think about The Secret of the Tirthas, compare your books with mine, and send me a friend request all on my profile page.

Anyhow, I thought I’d share some of the best books I’ve read over the last couple of years, which I’ve reviewed on Goodreads. In this first post: Young Adult & Children’s Books.

A Library of Lemons, by Jo Cotterill

A beautiful book about the mistaken routes we take to cope with grief and the long-term harm they do. Lovely, lucid writing – I particularly liked the image of the reclusive father receiving an invitation and looking like a hamster about to be plucked from its cage. Recommended for readers aged 10+, including grown-ups. 5 stars

Charlotte’s Web, by EB White

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I didn’t come across it as a child, but thankfully have had the chance to read it to my own children. The writing is wonderful, rendering the beauty and sadness of nature with almost perfect precision. The ending is, of course, heart breaking, and my wife and I had to take it in turns consoling our six-year-old. But he understood bravely the message that (paraphrasing Dylan Thomas) whilst friends may die, friendship will not. 5 stars

The Last Wild, by Piers Torday

Gripping, harrowing, comical, exciting… and with a very strong message about how much damage we do intentionally and unintentionally if we don’t remain vigilant about our connection to the natural world. This is a fantastic roller coaster of a book, with heroic children and animals, and the animal world’s version of the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the form of Captain Skuldiss. 5 stars

Doctor Who: Ghosts of India, by Mark Morris

I really enjoyed this book. India just after the second world war is masterfully depicted, with the hope, mystery and exuberance nicely balanced against the ominous clouds of coming strife with partition. The adventure has a good blend of villains and monsters, from the ghastly white ‘half-dead men’ to crazed Army Majors, giant crocodiles and cobras. The meeting of Gandhi with the Doctor is wonderful, and it’s left to Donna to draw parallels – and the Doctor to highlight the one key difference between them. A fun ride, with a pointed note of sadness at the end. 4 stars

The Chicken Dance, by Jacques Couvillon

I love this book, it’s a fantastic take on the huge capacity for patience and acceptance that children have, and the things they’ll do to ensure that no matter what they’ll find a way to have fun and give their lives meaning. Don is a winning example of one of those kids who end up parenting their parents. His final act of kindness breaks your heart. My only criticism is that the book feels a little drawn out towards the end – but that’s not enough to knock it off the top spot. Surely the best book you’ll ever read about chickens, too. 5 stars


The Misadventure of Bolingbroke Manor: An interactive ghost hunting adventure, by Ellie Firestone

A great, well written interactive book, perfect for the creepy season! I’ve just read this with my son (age 7) and we really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, he came to a sticky end, but we will be playing it again soon. Recommended. 5 stars

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

I loved the concept of this novel, in which the author draws on the fascinating power of old photographs to weave his fantastical story set between Florida and a wet and windy Welsh island. In the back notes Ransom Riggs explains how the creative process worked, with sometimes him hunting through thousands of archives to find the right picture and sometimes the story being pulled in a new direction by a chance find. With a big idea like this I’m sure there was a danger of things not working out. No fear. This is a masterful story full of strong characters, inspirational settings and a plot that keeps you gripped right to the end. 4 stars

Rooftoppers , by Katherine Rundell

Structurally, the book felt a little unbalanced, some bits were overly long – but somehow this added to its sense of originality and poetry. I loved the tangential metaphors, particularly as they illuminate Sophie’s inner life. And the ending leaves you in a perfect spin. 5 stars

We Were Liars, by E Lockhart

A stylish novel that messes around with your expectations. Set on an idyllic island, four privileged teenagers find their lives shadowed by an accident involving the narrator, which she is unable to remember. The story is pervaded by a sense of disturbance – brilliantly reflected by occasional, explosive images – and reproach throughout. Who’s the subject of this reproach – the wealthy patriarch, his money-grabbing daughters, the idealistic, enigmatic Gat? Given the unreliability of her memory, does the narrator even know herself? Well worth a second read, loved it. 4 stars

All Aboard the London Bus, by Patty Toht

Can’t fault this lovely book. Excellent illustrations and poems, and a great introduction to London. 5 stars


Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! , by Mo Willems

This has got to be one of the best picture books ever. The only time you will love hearing your children shouting ‘NO!’ 5 stars

The Dog in the Diamond Collar, by Rebecca Lisle

Read this with my boys aged 6 and 8 at bedtime. It’s a great story, full of laughs, with wonderful illustrations. The youngest couldn’t get over the name the three boys called the dog, Clinky Monkey (‘he’s not a monkey!’). I particularly liked the scene where they put the dog in a babygro and then wheel him around in a pram to get him into the zoo. When we finished, I asked the boys to mark it out of 10. 10 and, to quote, ‘Googol’ (10 to the 100th power) were the answers. 5 stars

Locked in Time, by Lois Duncan

I was drawn to this book by I Know What You Did Last Summer and the atmospheric Louisianan plantation setting. The story is enjoyable, with an engaging heroine who has to deal with the challenge of her father remarrying into an enigmatic southern family. The suspense is there, although perhaps not taut enough by today’s standards. 3 stars